People and places

The cultural dimension of places has become a common subject of policy, academic discourse and art projects. I don’t remember that being so in the 1970s and 1980s, although most community arts projects took their name from a place because they were rooted there. Today, their names have become deracinated and the idea of place preoccupies them instead. Perhaps it’s a symptom of how sharply some places have changed in the past 40 years, most obviously through de-industrialisation, but also in more subtle and complex ways. There’s something here too about the difference between land and landscape, the first a geological, geographic, physical reality, the second an imagined world of ideas, feelings, memories and hopes that whose layers make it at once richer but more unstable.

All this comes to mind because I’m due to speak at a symposium entitled Places in Particular next month. It’s organised by Northern Heartlands, a ‘Great Place‘ project prompted by the 2016 Culture White Paper. The symposium marks the end of three years’ work, though the team will plan to build on what they have done in another form. I like the idea of gathering the people who’ve worked together to benefit their community, and creating space to talk, reflect and celebrate what’s been done.

There has been an admirable thoughtfulness behind Northern Heartlands, and this event is one sign of that. Having just spent a couple of days in the area, meeting some of the people involved and visiting the places – that word again – where they live and work, I’m sure it’s going to be an interesting event. So I feel a more than usual obligation to say something useful at this point in the Northern Highlands path – useful in remote mountain villages and former mining communities, to people from different professions and none, at a time of change and uncertainty. I’m thinking too of places and people I worked with in South Eastern Europe, who faced comparable challenges and found similar ways forward. Perhaps the principles that underpinned that project might be updated here, in the light of new experience for a changed world.

If you are interested in how people make places, in cultural distinctiveness and community development, in community art, philosophy and dry stone walling, in folk music and young people, in wellbeing, activism or heritage, you’ll probably find these three days in Barnard Castle rewarding. You can find more information about the symposium here:

And if you do sign up for the event, please come and say hello!